Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Fear and Fear of Fear

Some things you should know about fears if you have some that you are trying to manage or have friends or family members who have fears:
1) It's a chemical thing.  Fear is a chemical response that happens in the brain and affects other parts of the body.  Chemicals are released from the brain that speed up heart rate, increase blood pressure, cause or increase sweating, and enhance sensitivity of the senses. 
2) Because it is a chemical thing, if not constantly fueled, it dissipates as the chemicals travel around the body and are diluted.  So not fleeing the thing feared can be helpful in management.  The chemicals disipate if you flee, but they also disipate if you merely stand your ground wih forced calm.  However, if constantly fueled, they do not get the opportunity to disipate.  The fear can be managed in small chunks, not in a constant onslaught.
3) These are some of the same chemicals as those caused by stress. Therefore, arguing, worrying about other things, being pressured to do the thing one is afraid of, being teased or belittled for the fear, being made to feel defective or weak for having the fear, all lead to an underlying chemical stew of stress hormones that make the fear feel even greater.  Calm is the enemy of fear.  Laughter is the enemy of fear. Comfort is the enemy of fear.  Help the person feel calm and you will be establishing a basis for better fear management.  If the person is resonsive, humor may help, but if they are annoyed by joking, the opposite can occur.  Make sure the person is hydrated, dressed warmly enough, protected from hot sun, as physically comfortable as possible.
4) These are some of the same chemicals caused by work or physical activity.  So working hard prior to encountering a fearful stimuli can set up a situation for increased fear.  So climbing stairs and being out of breath with racing heart can cause the roof edge or even balcony railing to be frightening, but pausing at the top of the stairs to catch ones breath and calm down can render the edge or the railing much more manageable.  Recovering from phsyical work with a rest period before encountering the potential fear trigger can help keep stress chemicals and therefore fear chemicals under better control.
5) After the fearful thing is encountered, a rest period to allow the stess chemicals to thoroughly disipate and the body funcitons to thoroughly moderate back to normal can be key in not retriggering the fear.  Forging ahead to the next encounter before chemicals have dispated and body functions have normalized increases the chances the fear will be retriggered. 
6) There is a fast automatic response to fear in one part of the brain that occurs simultaneously with a slower more thougtful more rational response in another part of the brain.  If the fear is approached slowly and calmly the slow smart response can override the fast hysterical response.  If time is taken after the encounter to thougtfully reflect on the success of the previous fear response, the liklihood of retriggereing the fear ican be diminished.  This is another reason that calm approach and post-fear rest are important.  They allow the slow thougthful response to do its job in managing future encounters with the fear stimuli.
7) Control is essential in many aspects of brain chemistry.  Pleasure is enhanced if a person feels thay had some control in bringing it on and pain is diminished if the person feels they are able do things themselves to diminish it.  Likewise, fears are diminished when the person feels in control of the exposure.  If the person can control when and how much exposure will occur, in what manner it is approached, and if they can control how the exposure to the fear is ended, the physical responses to the fear trigger will be diminished.  Therefore, 'helping' the person out of the situation may not be all that helpful.  Even offering help before administering it adds a measure of control for the subject of the fear: Having the opportunity or even the illusion of being able to reject help puts the person in control, even if they ultimately require and accept help. Additionally, asking 'how can I help you?' puts the subject in control of the means of assistance, not just whether to accept help.  Asking how to help the person also engages more fully the thoughtful processes already going on in their brain, bringing that process into more effective management of the situation over the faster less-thougtful process.
8) Fears are not rational.  Post-fear analysis that tries to paint the fear as silly or baseless do not help because they attempt to reationalize future exposures.  Post-fear analysis that examines what helped during the fear situation are more successful.  Asking what made the fear worse and what made it better are things that emphasize the control aspect and also are a sort ot training for use during the slower thoughful brain fear response in future exposures.  Similarly, examining what might help next time also helps validate the fear as real and labels it as a manageable situation, as well as preloading the thoughtful response process with data.

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